Emotional Ghosting: When Committed Relationships End Without Enough Explanation
Many of us are familiar with the term "ghosting," which refers to unexpectedly being dropped out of contact with someone we thought we cared about, all without a trace or explanation.
In my original post, "Ghosting: Why it Hurts and What to Do About It" I get into the details of this phenomenon and how to shift your emotional response to being ghosted so you can get through it (this stuff can be TOUGH). This is one of my most Google-searched and read blog posts. Which means it happens a LOT... and that people who have been ghosted are out there asking the web for comfort, reasons, rationale, and coping help.
Ghosting often occurs after a brief but intense and seemingly meaningful relationship. It's unfortunately common in the world of online dating (Tinder, Match, OKCupid, etc.), where people meet, sparks fly and they hit it off, things move quickly, and then BAM -- you never hear from them again. Texts or emails go unreturned. The other person is now virtually nowhere to be found. This is one version, but ghosting also happens between long-time friends as well as recent acquaintances.
Ghosting is seriously shitty and the impact of it brings all of your insecurities, worst fears, and desires to self-protect back to the surface.
Indeed, ghosting is a cowardly, unfair, and an often heartbreaking act. As I was recently reflecting on the impact of ghosting, I realized that I see many women in my private practice who are trying to recover from a form of ghosting in their committed partnerships and marriages.
I call it "emotional ghosting."
Watch my video below, and/or read on to learn more:
WHAT IS EMOTIONAL GHOSTING AT THE END OF A COMMITTED RELATIONSHIP?
Emotional ghosting is the breakdown and absence of communication in a long-term relationship/marriage that ultimately leads one person to end the relationship without adequate explanation or valid explanation.
I call it "emotional ghosting" because you haven't been literally ghosted in the sense of your partner leaving without a word or trace; there is often still a heart-wrenching, drawn out process of separating logistically, physically, or in contact. But rather, you've been ghosted in the emotional form; that is, your relationship has ended without enough word or enough tangible trace of WHY.
I've seen this form of ghosting in couples who have been together for years and were seemingly on the path to marriage. I've also seen this form of ghosting in married couples with shared house, cars, bank accounts, and kids. The most common sign that a woman I'm seeing in therapy has been emotionally ghosted is that I hear a version of this phrase:
"He just said he was done. There really wasn't any specific reason why, but he said it was over and that he wanted a separation/divorce/to move out. I knew things weren't going great but I never expected this. I am devastated. I just don't understand."
The above statement reflects the client's state in the here-and-now, her reality in the present. But what I know from my experience as a clinician is that we've got to backtrack.
The emotional impact of this abrupt end seems like it was out of the blue - it's indeed devastating, and the actual break comes as an immense shock. But it always started somewhere. And that somewhere was usually years in the making. Together, I help my clients identify and better understand where it started. We take an honest look at what breakdown of the relationship carried on for some significant period of time before their partner showed up and said, "it's over."
This detective work brings up the phrase "middle knowledge." Many people whose long-term relationships abruptly end have spent a good amount of time in "middle knowledge." Middle knowledge is a place where you know that things are not right, but you carry on as usual, struggling with two separate and competing beliefs at the same time: 1) fear that your relationship may be falling apart and might end, and 2) the simultaneous disbelief that it could actually end, and therefore determining that it won't.
This form of emotional and logical ambivalence leads to inaction. And so action then often finally arrives in the form of one's partner delivering a breakup or divorce without adequate explanation.
While the relationship is on its downward trajectory, the couple is like roommates. Intimacy is scarce, they're disconnected and distant. They are ships passing in a shared life. Things have been distant/off-track/uncommunicative for so long that to your partner, the end seems obvious.
Since words were not ever adequately present between the couple to thoroughly and proactively discuss the relationship's struggle, work on communication, or develop a new language to talk about what was wrong, there are also none of these helpful words provided when the relationship ends.
The bottom of this slippery slope is truly devastating.
Not having good explanation for the end to a relationship you'd built, given time, love, and energy to is extremely hard to grapple with. That's why counseling can help you track and identify that explanation that you so crave and so deserve. But more importantly, counseling helps my clients to target their own behaviors or beliefs that kept them from taking a stand during the downslide and demanding their partner join them on working on what was wrong.
Before we can answer the questions, "will I ever find love again?" or "how can I move on?" we've got to put in some legwork.
Common themes I work on with women who have been emotionally ghosted include:
- Difficulty identifying and voicing one's own needs
- Forgetting what you deserve in a relationship
- Being able to talk about what you deserve in a relationship
- Fear that discussing what's wrong will make it real
- Low confidence in being able to enact change
- Worry that talking about it will cause the feared breakup
- Improving ability to productively verbalize and collaborate with a partner on experienced difficulties
The end to a long-term relationship or marriage is absolutely heartbreaking. It requires its own processing, as well as adequate time and space to grieve the loss. But if you're being, or have been, emotionally ghosted, then proactively working with a counselor will help to give yourself the explanation you never received from your partner. Not only can it absolutely change the course of your ability to survive through it and cope, but it will ultimately get you on the road to to living that thriving, full, and loving life again you so deserve.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Call (860) 339-6515 for your free initial consultation.